The Decline and Fall of the Roman (and American?) Empire: A Free Audiobook

Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — It’s a major work of the Enlightenment, a book that shaped how we moderns write history (and, for that matter, how we aspire to write in the English language), and it’s now available as a free podcast thanks to Librivox. Or at least Volume 1 is. With a runtime of almost 20 hours, this audiobook — click to access individual files or the full zip file — will make it so that you’re not looking for the remaining volumes any time soon. But don’t worry they’re eventually coming.

Published first in 1776, just as the US declared its independence from England, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall looked to offer an empirical explanation for why Ancient Rome fell as a power, and he generally pointed to a decline in civic virtue among its citizenry (why bother fighting the Empire’s wars when you can get mercenaries to do it?) and to the rise of Christianity (why worry about Rome when a better life, an eternal afterlife, awaits you?).

In part, Gibbon’s work has endured because it speaks to questions that modern powers have on their minds. What brings Empires down, and what (implicitly) allows them to endure? These questions have a certain amount of relevance these days in an anxious US. And indeed Gibbon’s name was immediately invoked in a recent podcast that asked whether America, today’s empire, is on the brink. (Click to listen.) The parallels between Gibbon’s Rome and the contemporary United States have also been directly explored by the prolific, young Harvard historian, Niall Ferguson. You may want to check out his October 2006 piece in Vanity Fair, Empire Falls. And depending on what you think, you can give time to his two books on Empire — the first (and better) one focuses on the British Empire, and a second one devotes itself to the US.

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Comments (7)
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  • Gibbon’s book is named (and about) the decline and fall, not the rise and fall.

  • Carol Jurd says:

    I haven’t read (or listened to) all of Gibbon’s book/s, but he does seem to ignore the fact that (a) the Roman empire lasted for a very long time, (b) the eastern Roman empire (which he rather dismisses) lasted even longer. Does he perhaps attribute this to moral reasons, where perhaps there were other underlying causes: the rise of other powerful nations, economic fluctuations. It’s easy to oversimplify and draw similes from a very unsimilar situation.

  • Len says:

    Gibbon did not ignore the length of the Roman Empire. Moreover, his book deals with the empire’s decline –not its rise!

    His work is a major literary achievement of the 18th century –still cited by scholars. Gibbon, consulted more original and ancient sources than any other ‘Rome’ scholar then or now. He ‘pioneered’ the use of ‘footnotes’. Therefore, we know what Gibbon read and the conclusions derived thereof. To assert that Gibbon ignored the length of the Roman Empire is like saying Einstein ignored the speed of light!

    Gibbon’s history was published in six extensive volumes in 1776. It went through six printings. The original volumes were published as quartos, a common publishing practice of the time.

    Even the period covered by Gibbon is not ‘short’ –the period after Marcus Aurelius (from just before 180) to 1453. Gibbon most certainly knew a thing or two, as well, about the Eastern Empire. He is consulted by everyone writing about it today.

  • ratanlaxmi says:

    ed gibbon was very gifted, i would love to have all his introduction in the seven books that got printed. it will be heaven,s edelweis shower on me.

  • ratanlaxmi says:

    i would love to have the preface ofall the seven books of edward gibbon,s.
    it would be heaven,s edweils shower on me.

  • Colin says:

    The internet eh. Someone comes on, says they haven’t read a book and then proceeds to criticise it. Which book? The most respected and ground breaking book in its field. The book that has been cited by scholars for centuries and continues to be read by amateurs for the sheer pleasure of it. Priceless stuff.

  • Dan says:

    Citing Ferguson? The lunatic fringe Neo-Con. Sad.

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